Anxiety & Me

So recently, I’ve had quite a dark patch of depression, followed by particularly heightened anxiety. This has caused me quite a few days off from work, and it has basically ruined the last 2 weeks of my life. In this blog I will be focusing on the anxiety I experience, what causes it and how I have coped with anxiety attacks.

Anxiety can be different for many people, but for me I completely tense up, my heart races, my legs turn to jelly, my hands sweat and I might get shivers or get really hot.  I also find it hard to communicate with anyone – lack of eye contact, reserved body language and anything I say just gets confused and mixed up in my head.

A good example of when I feel anxious is when I walk into a shop on my own. My whole body is on-edge as soon as I walk in, knowing there will be lots of people and shop assistants around watching me and I always hope I don’t do or say anything stupid. The check-out is the worst part though – any interaction causes me to completely clam up; if they ask me a question my heart beats out of my chest and my words in reply never come out in the right order. It entirely messes with my brain. After this experience has happened and I’ve said a sentence wrong, I constantly have it on replay in my head for about the next hour, regretting what I’d done and wishing it went differently.

So, why does my brain and body do this?

Simply put, anxiety can be described as the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome in our bodies, which gives us an extra burst of adrenaline when we feel in danger, enabling us to tackle it or run away from it. The way it works for me, and many others also suffering from anxiety, is that my threshold for the ‘fight or flight’ is particularly low, and it makes me think that relatively normal situations are a danger or threat to me. My body releases the adrenaline anyway, and causes me to experience these feelings.

Here’s a list of situations when I feel this way:

  • Walking into a shop or somewhere public by myself
  • Driving on my own late at night
  • Driving somewhere for the first time
  • Talking on the phone to someone I don’t know
  • Leaving my boyfriend’s side (known as separation anxiety)
  • Walking in the dark
  • Not having enough time
  • Worrying about what people will think.

What caused me to have a particularly low week this week was the separation anxiety. Every evening that I tried to leave my boyfriend’s house I became scared, felt unsafe, and really did not want to leave his company. This brought on most of the symptoms of anxiety from above, but quite a lot worse than normal, then I started intensely crying, becoming breathless and feeling dizzy. I knew then that this was an anxiety attack, and it lasted about 10 minutes before my symptoms started to wear off. My poor boyfriend had to deal with this 2 nights in a row, and somehow knew exactly what to do for me. He sat me down, made me drink water, calmed me down, and took my coat off as I was getting hot. He guided me through breathing techniques that we have previously practised in yoga and meditation, which were really helpful with the breathlessness I was suffering. In turn, this whole experience made me feel exhausted and each morning after, I woke up tired, my body was on shut down and I was definitely not in a position to face a whole day at work.

Having never had anxiety attacks before this week, it was quite a shock to me and it made me quite confused. Having experienced them a couple of times now, I feel more equipped to deal with them and try to work out when one is about to happen. It does, however, make me conscious of the fact that it may happen more regularly from now on, and this increases my fear of having an attack in public or at work.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone who also suffers, or at least an insight into anxiety for anyone else.

Thanks for reading.

Sarah x

What Helps & Hinders Me

So, if this is your first time reading my blogs, I am a young lady suffering from depression and anxiety. Every day I have to wake up and face this problem, and I’ve finally got to a point now where I can understand it and even begin to control it. This blog in particular is for the benefit of others suffering the same or similar mental health issues, and I hope it can be some aid for knowing what helps and what to avoid.

What Helps Me

  • Long, hot showers and baths – They seem to relax me and allow me to zone out for half an hour (yes, literally half an hour!)
  • Yoga and meditation – Not only good for fitness but for mental health. Yoga involves a lot of stretching and connecting with the earth. It feels awesome for the body and I try and do it as often as I can! After this, I normally partake in a short meditation session to create space in my mind and feel ready for the day ahead.
  • Sleep – a good amount of sleep is essential, but not too much! Overloading yourself with rest can make you feel more tired.
  • Hydrotherapy – going swimming or a quick dip in a jacuzzi completely makes me feel relaxed and enables me to forget about the troubles in my life. Plus, floating in water makes me feel weightless against the gravity of the world.
  • Heat therapy – I’m not sure if this is a real thing, but I’ve named it heat therapy. For me it involves going in a sauna, putting a hot flannel over my face, or simply wrapping myself up in a blanket. It makes me feel warm and comfortable, and seems to positively change my perspective.
  • Healthy eating – Consuming healthy foods are no doubt going to make a difference. After a few nights of takeaways and rubbish food, I really feel quite groggy and tired. My mood does seem to lift after a week of cramming fruit and veg!
  • Keep busy – I like scheduling a good amount of things into my week as it makes me feel productive and I develop a sense of achievement. However, I avoid completely filling up my diary because I find I get tired and irritated if I do too much. Also, if I don’t accomplish something that week I would feel like a failure. Always keep your goals within reach!
  • Talking – By talking to my boyfriend or whoever I’m with, I can share what I’m feeling to take the weight off my shoulders. Honesty is always the best policy in any relationship, and you may find they will do things to make your life just a little bit easier. #smallthings
  • Music therapy – For many, this will include listening to music. But as a singer-songwriter, I always take it a step further and write my feelings down as lyrics. Once I finish writing lyrics or creating a song, I can then use this as a form of communication to people as everything I want to say is always in the song. (If you fancy checking out one of my songs based on depression, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI7YIMlxrzc )

What Hinders Me

  • Hunger – Feed yourself up! It always makes me feel ready to continue my day, and I quite frankly get really stroppy without food!
  • Exhaustion – I need at least 8 hours of sleep to make me feel human, although this might be different for everyone. I sometimes find naps in the afternoon can help if I’m feeling a little unrested one day. As I mentioned above though, over-sleeping can make you feel really tired too so find your balance.
  • Stress – if something is stressing me out with my work or home-life, this can lead to over-thinking, worrying and less sleep. With my anxiety too, it can be a bit of a nightmare so I avoid as many stressful situations as possible.
  • Boredom – Again, just sitting around not doing much causes me to overthink about things that really aren’t worth worrying about. It additionally decreases my sense of achievement, so I always try and keep busy, even if it is doing some colouring or painting while watching TV.
  • Feeling unclean – Just go and shower girl.
  • Feeling cold – My mood is especially low if I’m cold. Rather than turning the heating up, I like to wrap myself up in a blanket, put on an extra jumper or do a short burst of exercise to feel nice and warm!
  • Leaving my boyfriend – Every time I see my other half, I dread the part where I have to leave him. I’m sure this is mostly to do with anxiety, but I haven’t yet figured out how to solve this one.
  • Changes of plan – I seem to really kick off if something has been planned for ages and it all falls through. For some reason I can’t get my head around the fact that that event isn’t happening anymore and start questioning “What if?” However, this has recently got better, and I have sort of naturally become more positive about these situations. When this happens, I am now able to cope with it by saying “Okay, not to worry, I’ve just gained some extra time for myself now.”

 

Remember, I’m not at all a professional; I’m just a regular girl broadcasting her experiences. It may not help everyone suffering with mental health problems, but if it does help just one person I have done what I set out to do with this blog.

Thanks for reading.

Sarah x

What to say/not to say to someone suffering a mental health problem

So as this is my second blog, I wanted to address something early on in the process that is quite crucial to many people experiencing depression, anxiety or a number of other mental health issues. It is something that can completely crush you and really can make you feel like your life isn’t worth living – it is stigma. The stigma surrounding mental health has become so widespread that “almost 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems say they face stigma and discrimination as a result.”[1]

My role today is to decrease this stigma by telling you (as friends, family and work colleagues of probably at least 1 person with a mental health issue) my top tips of what to say and what not to say. Read carefully as you could be using these tips on February 4th! (more information below)

  • One Question – “How are you?” This is a great open question to start with as it allows the person to judge whether they would like to talk in-depth, briefly, or not at all about the matter in hand. This is a really good one if you’ve not encountered a situation like this before, and me being someone who has received and dodged quite a few of these questions, I think it is a safe way to go if the person may not feel too comfortable. In any case, reassure them and let them know you’ll be there for them.
  • Time, Place and Space – Allocate some time for talking with them on your own and in a quiet space away from others to make them feel more comfortable. They may be more likely to open up to you this way and you’ll be surprised how much a cup of tea, a smile and a listening ear can do.
  • Text Them – even without being with that person physically, they can still feel involved and loved with just a simple text message. Sometimes when you feel down, you don’t necessarily want to be social, and I’ve always found it really helps if you can have a source of outlet without worrying too much about speaking in person. Also it is less pressure on the receiving end as you can think about what to say before you reply.
  • “Anything I can do?” – This one is for close friends, relatives and partners of the suffering person. You might realise that a mental health problem can affect many aspects of life, and without the help of people around them, said person may struggle to complete everyday tasks and live a normal life. Make it easier for them by asking if there’s anything you can do each time you contact them – buying them a few necessities may be the one thing that keeps them going today; or offer to take them out for some fresh air as they may just want company. (This is named the #smallthings by Time To Change.)

Moving onto some of the things definitely NOT to say:

  • “Snap out of it.” – This one reverberates through my brain and knocks my confidence every time I think about it. I will not discuss why, but this phrase has definitely been felt by me. One cannot simply snap out of a mental health problem – it is impossible. It is like telling someone to defy gravity with their bare hands.
  • “It’s just a phase; you’ll grow out of it.” – This is probably a common phrase heard by teenagers experiencing mental health concerns. Some mental illnesses may be seen by parents as ‘something that happens in the teen years’, however they can turn out to be pretty serious disorders, so never turn a blind eye.
  • “Don’t worry about it; calm down.” – Especially for people suffering with anxiety, these phrases are a big no-no. Their brains are wired to worry and they can’t just stop being anxious. You might as well ask them to walk on water.
  • “I know how you feel; I get like that too.” – Most of the time, you definitely don’t! Unless you have been diagnosed, you can’t really start comparing your feelings to anyone else’s. And if you have been diagnosed too, it may be helpful to talk to each other about it, but remember we are all unique in our experience.
  • “Cheer up!” For them, being happy is a battle, so how can you expect them to suddenly cheer up and feel that everything is dandy with the world when they are suffering feelings that are so numbing and distressing?
  • Also, that joke you started about me being lazy and not doing enough? That made me feel crap. As someone who suffers depression, it is literally a war with my brain to be able to get out of bed in the morning, so if I manage to get anything else done at all that day, it is a miracle.

If you’ve managed to get this far into the blog, listen up! It’s your turn to make a difference. Thursday 4th February 2016 marks this year’s ‘Time To Talk’ day, hosted by Time To Change. It’s your chance to help us end mental health stigma, so sit down with work colleagues, family and friends, have a cuppa and TALK. I will be encouraging this throughout my workplace, hoping that people will get involved knowing how much it means to me. Help end the mental health stigma so sufferers like me won’t have to endure the negative impacts that stigma creates.

More information at www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday

 

[1] Statistic from www.time-to-change.org.uk  – a brilliant non-profit organisation that is helping beat the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

Hi. I’m Sarah…

Hi. I’m Sarah – a singer/songwriter, tea enthusiast and a first-time blogger. I am finally sharing my journey of living with depression and anxiety. Welcome to my headspace.

I have set up this blog for my family, friends and work colleagues’ knowledge and understanding of mental health and how they can support me and others through these issues. It has always been such a taboo subject, one that desperately needs more awareness, as 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health issue every year.

I am just one of those people, and here’s my story…

I am 22 years old, living in the UK and suffering ongoing depression and anxiety. Every day I really struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed, and normally results in me getting pushed/pulled out of bed by my boyfriend or mum. I then rush to get ready and try to make it to work on time. Some people question why I look so tired and exhausted in the morning. If they only knew that I feel like I fight a losing battle before 9am every day, then they might understand why.

Other symptoms of depression I suffer are: feelings of worthlessness; hopelessness; low mood; negative thoughts; feeling angry/irritable; lack of concentration and self-esteem; excessive crying and emotion; fatigue; lack of interest in things I used to like; changes in sleep patterns; the list goes on and on.

I first suffered depression at the age of 17 when I struggled with school work at college. At the time, it felt like the lowest point of my life and I was too young and too busy to even begin to understand what was happening inside my head. I was a changed human being when 6 months later I took some time away and was finally relieved of my depressive symptoms.

I never knew it would come back though. In the autumn of 2014 I got a new job that I had wanted for ages and was so happy for the weeks leading up to it. I started my job, I loved it and everything was dandy. As time passed, I felt myself reflect more and more on life and focus on all the things I hadn’t achieved yet. I felt my low mood grow and negative thoughts set in. By winter of 2014 I was yet again googling ‘depression’ and wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this.

A year on, I have come to terms with my mental health and it is incredible how acceptance of something can change your perspective. I have researched into my symptoms a lot more and understand that I am not alone in my experiences. Having seen my doctor to discuss medication and enrolled on a therapy course, I am partway to controlling my condition.

However, depression is only part of it. Coupled with anxiety, I feel like an absolute train-wreck. For as long as I can remember I’ve hated doing things independently, and never liked being alone when I was a child, teen and even young adult. For a while this seemed normal but as I got older I realised that I had to do more independent things like go in a shop and pay for something, or fill up my car with petrol. These things fill me with dread and I often put them off for as long as possible. Speaking to a shop assistant will make me sweat; shake; and my legs will turn to jelly. I overthink everything and fear that I will say something wrong or do something stupid in front of someone. Socially, I’m a nightmare if I’m in a room full of complete strangers. For these reasons I very rarely go out on my own.

This is only an introduction into how I feel, and I am going to be blogging more in-depth about different areas of my condition.

One last thing: watch this video. These 4 minutes can instantly give you an insight into how tough depression is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc #blackdog

Thanks for reading.

Sarah x

 

“[Depression] operates within you. You do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but – if that is the metaphor – then you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”

Matt Haig, author. (Read his brilliant book ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’.)